Following a disappointing third-quarter earnings report marred by hurricanes and funding snafus by foreign governments, dental supply company DentsplyInternational (NASDAQ:XRAY) issued gleaming fourth-quarter financials.

The maker of dental prosthetics, crown and bridge materials, and endodontic instruments was able to chew on renewed growth in the U.S. market, which accounts for 43% of sales. Anemic third-quarter domestic growth turned in a robust 5.2% performance this time around, led by double-digit growth in the orthodontic and implants segments.

Dentsply is undoubtedly a rather boring, pedestrian business, yet one that has been able to churn out consistent growth. The worldwide dental market is expected to grow at a steady rate of 4% to 5% annually, and the 106-year-old supplier expects to exceed that pace, with earnings growth approaching 10% a year. It dominates the industry, with revenues three times that of its nearest competitor, SybronDental (NYSE:SYD). Sitting on a pile of cash, the company expects to make acquisitions over time that will add to that growth.

Indicative of the growth trend is its recently introduced Oraqix, a needle-free anesthetic. Launched in November, Dentsply has already received some $1 million in orders that will begin shipping this year, and the company thinks it will ultimately become a $40 million-$50 million product. Management wouldn't provide a timetable to achieve that sort of market penetration, but it is smiling brightly at the results so far. Similarly, a new antibacterial root-canal cleanser called Biopure holds promise of being a successful product introduction.

Sales to foreign countries continue to be weighed down by Germany's reimbursement to dental policies that have only recently been corrected. Europe, as a whole, accounts for 38% of Dentsply's sales, but Germany makes up more than half of the segment by itself. The company predicts that European sales for the first half of 2005 will be strong but that the first quarter will come in lower, followed by a robust second quarter.

Dental products make up a profitable business, and Dentsply was able to throw off more than $250 million in free cash flow for the year. With an enterprise-value-to-free-cash-flow ratio of 20, it's not a bargain-basement dweller to be sure, but a check of its chart shows it is a consistent performer with hardly any quirks.

With an over-65 population that's expected to double in size by the year 2030, opportunities abound for Dentsply to grow, and an investor could always use it to fill any cavities in his portfolio.

Read why Dentsply's giving investors a reason to smile:

Fool contributor Rich Duprey smiles at the thought of patting Tom Gardner's head. He owns shares in Dentsply but does not own any of the other stocks mentioned in this article. For more, check out the Dentsply discussion board at